As a former youth pastor, I find that I will never truly surrender the role. As my first group of “kids” find themselves as young adults, contemplating marriages, careers and big decisions, they still come to me for advice. More often than not, they want to know about sex. Maybe they think that since I am married with children, I know more about it than they do. Maybe it’s because I treated them like my little brothers and sisters, and held them accountable for their actions. Maybe I am just an easier person to talk to than their parents. (Hey, Mom, I slept with my girlfriend last night. What do I do?) Maybe they remember that message I gave at youth group when I told them that my wife and I struggled before we got married, but we made it through. For whatever reason, they ask me for wisdom, and I give it. Do you need some advice from a big brother on keeping your dating relationship on a godly plane? Here goes.
Somewhere within the last 50 years, the definition of “going out” has changed. It may sound silly and seem like it has little to do with sex, but it does. Then, dating was a screening process. People went to the movies with different guys or girls until they found one they liked. Then came “going steady,” meaning that dating one guy or girl exclusively for a few months or years. Then, if they liked each other, they would consider engagement, and then marriage.
Today, our emphasis on dating begins young, before girls and guys are even supposed to like each other. There is a pressure to “go out” with someone, “going out” meaning occasionally getting up the nerve to sit next to each other in the elementary cafeteria. When it comes time to date in high school and college, the pressure to have a steady boyfriend or girlfriend is so high that kids who don’t even know who they are find themselves pledging lifelong commitments to people they hardly know.
The result of such a silly junior high mindset is that people who are not married begin to live like they are married. They might or might not live together, but they expect ultimate fidelity and commitment. The problem with it is that when that kind of commitment exists, the sexual bond will begin to grow. It’s the beginning of the whole “two become one” process. It’s not a bad thing. That sexual bond will begin to grow long before the wedding day. What kind of fool would marry a woman he is not attracted to? The key is to keep sexual behavior at bay until the wedding day.
We obviously can’t change our culture overnight to re-institute the ancient arts of dating and courtship, but we can change our individual mindset. If you are not a place in your life when you should be getting married, don’t live like you are married. That’s the first step.
[DATE ONLY CHRISTIANS]
Bottom line: If you love Christ, and you date someone whose spiritual walk is in the opposite direction, chances of you turning him around are slim. More than likely, you will be the one that fails. It may sound like youth group cliché, but missionary dating rarely works. You should only date someone you think you could marry, and Scripture is clear about “being unequally yoked” with unbelievers.
[GUIDELINES FOR ENGAGEMENT]
Once you find yourself coming to that place where marriage is a real option, and one person has got your heart, it becomes difficult to keep the sexy beast inside of us under control. The best thing to do is to establish some rules while heads are clear. Don’t wait until you are in the back seat of your SUV making out to say, “Okay, if he touches my breast, I will have a problem.” Get together early on when you both realize that your dating relationship is getting serious, and actually write down a list of things that you know you should not do. Some people can mentally draw out of bounds lines on their bodies and know what will turn them on. Some people have to draw the line at kissing, or short hugs. It might sound puritanical, but if your sex drive is running high, it will get tough—notice I didn’t say “might” get tough.
Some people need hard rules that can never be broken. Some people can be a little flexible for each situation. You may even have to rewrite rules a little more strictly to accommodate for new temptations. They key is to have some idea of what you want out of your relationship before it gets hot and steamy.
[BE PUBLIC, NOT PRIVATE]
The closer a couple grows together, the more time they want to spend alone. The problem though, is that if people can’t see you, it’s much easier to fall into sexual temptation. So be alone, but be alone in public, not private. Go to a park, or a mall. You don’t even have to spend any money. If you have a laptop with a DVD drive, take it to a park bench and watch a movie together. Go to a quiet church that opens their sanctuary and spend some time praying together. Go to a party at a friend’s house. Pull the car as close to the front of the Wal-Mart parking lot as possible and cuddle in the care listening to a basketball game on the radio. To be honest, the rest of the world would rather not see the cuddling and googly eyes of yet another obnoxious couple, but it ads an extra measure of accountability to your relationship. Most people wouldn’t have sex in public. Hopefully it’s foolproof.
[SEX FOR ONE, PLEASE?]
Don’t let the world’s glamorous picture of masturbation fool you. Okay, so it’s not that glamorous, but there is still a lie out there you need to watch for. Masturbation will not relieve the sexual pressure that’s being built up between you and your loved one. Guys and gals both wrestle with this problem. So instead of sweeping it under the rug, lets talk about it.
Masturbation coupled with lust is detrimental to your future sexual relationship. Sex is about pleasing each other. Masturbation is about pleasing yourself. If you date for two years, and masturbate whenever you think you can’t hold the temptation back anymore, what you’ve done is trained yourself to the quickest route possible to pleasure. Jesus said that if a man lusts after woman in his heart, he’s committed adultery. And don’t hit me with the argument that masturbation can be separated from lust. I’ve been there. Even if it could be separated, the mechanical act of it would be detrimental to your relationship in the long run.
[BRUSH YOURSELF OFF]
Too often, a couple gets intimate and ends up touching body parts they shouldn’t, or engages in oral sex, or “goes all the way,” and then they really never recover. They seem to think, “We’ll we’ve screwed it up now. There’s no going back.” Unfortunately, that lie comes from its father, and he’s glad you think that way. It means failure will follow again soon.
If you cross the line, confess your sin, ask forgiveness from your God and your partner, and live in grace. Make drastic changes in the way you pursue dating. Don’t put yourself in that position again. Repentance is hard, and it’s not just a teary-eyed acknowledgment of sin, it’s a get up and brush the dirt of your hands, and try to keep them clean, knowing that you cannot do it in your own strength.
In the “Armor of God” passage that Paul wrote in Ephesians 6, he encouraged the good Christian soldier to gird his loins with the belt of truth. The Roman armor of the day included a belt that had a metal and leather “loin protector” that dangled down to keep the soldiers private parts safe.
It’s important to realize that each part of Paul’s armor covers and protect specific parts of the body. The belt of truth holds the scabbard that sheaths the Sword of the Spirit, which is the common explanation that I heard growing up in an old fashioned Baptist church. I think they missed a very important thing here. The belt of truth was meant to protect the loins. Truth covers and protects us from sexual sin.
In other words, don’t keep your struggles secret. Discuss them with people you can trust. Let the skeletons fall out of the closet. Keep your past an open book between your partner, so that your present doesn’t repeat it. Keep your present an open book with each other, so that you can look out for each other as you struggle with sexual temptation. Find another couple who has either been married and gone through it, or is struggling with it now, and meet regularly to check on each other’s status.
Keeping pure is hard work. It’s also impossible without God’s help. Find the “way of escape” that God promises will be available with every temptation. He doesn’t allow you to be hit with more than you can handle.[Stories on RELEVANTmagazine.com are user-submitted. The viewpoints expressed are the opinions of the author and do not necessary reflect the opinion of RELEVANT magazine. For exclusive in-depth stories, subscribe now to RELEVANT magazine. If you are interested in submitting an article, please check out our writers guidelines.]